Financial seminar

Did you know that people living with dementia may be entitled to a council tax reduction or council tax exemption?

If your neighbour, friend or loved one is living with dementia and is still paying council tax the following may provide you the information you need to support them to get what they are entitled to.

The rule is called the Severe Mental Impairment exemption and it relates to many more conditions than just dementia, but it is dementia we will be exploring in this paper. Severe Mental Impairment may sound an awful description, but it is the medical and legal term that covers this discount.

What is the Severe Mental Impairment?

The council tax rules say that a person is exempt from council tax if they have a ‘severe mental impairment’. It says that ‘a person is severely mentally impaired if they have a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning which appears to be permanent’.

As with any law it is very specific and your entitlement requires you to prove that you “tick the right boxes.” This can be frustrating and infuriating to families that have enough to do without having to deal with bureaucracies. But, you have to accept that there has to be a measure, which some people will meet and others not, so there has to be a process to measure that.

The law states that to qualify an older person must be certified by a doctor as being severely mentally impaired. This is officially defined as having ‘a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning, however caused, which appears to be permanent’.

Simply having an underlying medical diagnosis such as dementia in itself does not automatically mean a person qualifies as SMI and is entitled to the council tax exemption.

If you are diagnosed as SMI, this means you can claim:

  • A 25% discount – if there are multiple occupiers in a house and one of them qualifies as SMI they can claim a 25% discount on Council Tax
  • A 100% discount – if the person who qualifies as SMI lives alone then they will receive a full discount on their council tax.

So who does qualify?

In order to qualify both of the following must apply to the individual

  • They must have been medically certified as being severely mentally impaired. This can be as a result of any number of conditions including dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke or severe learning difficulties. Like many other allowances it is dependent on case by case basis. A diagnosis does not automatically mean qualification. The doctor must certify that they have the condition and that they are severely mentally impaired.
  • That they are eligible at least one of the following benefits:
    o Attendance allowance
    o Incapacity benefit
    o Severe disablement allowance
    o Disability living allowance
    o Increase in disablement pension
    o Un-employability supplement or allowance
    o Constant attendance allowance
    o Income support
    o Personal independence payment
    o Armed forces independence payment
    o Disability working allowance
    o Universal credit

Important note – many councils wrongly inform people that they need to be in receipt of these benefits, but that is not true. They simply need to be eligible for them! However, we would suggest that if you are entitled but not receiving these benefits then you should claim them as soon as possible.

How do I make a claim?

Depending on your area there are different processes for making a claim so you should check with your Local Authority what their processes are. But, broadly you will need to follow the following process:

  • Contact your Council for a claim form
  • Contact your GP and request that they provide a written diagnosis of severe mentally impairment.
  • Complete the form and return to your council, attach your supporting evidence provided by your GP and evidence of eligibility of other relevant benefits.
    Procedures vary by council, so if you want to know how long it will take for the discount to be applied, it’s best to check with yours.

Can you get a rebate if you have already overpaid?

Inevitably, there will be many people that have been overpaying Council Tax for some time and should have been in receipt of either the reduction or a full exemption for many years. There question will be – Am I entitled to a refund?

The short answer to that is maybe!

Some councils will automatically allow you to apply for a retrospective claim and apply a backdated discount. Other councils are far less comfortable with backdated claims and make it very hard.

If your council is one of the latter this is what you need to know:

  • Make your correct claim as explained above.
  • Write to your local council, explaining the situation and circumstances and why you feel that a retrospective claim is appropriate. In this you will need to provide evidence as to why you were met the appropriate criteria in the past
  • Ensure you explain why you didn’t make your claim earlier